Claremont Insider: Brown Act Changes

Monday, June 4, 2007

Brown Act Changes

A reader forwarded us an article from last Friday's Daily Bulletin. The article, by Dan Abendschein, covered the changes in the Ralph M. Brown Act, a California sunshine law governing public meetings.

The changes to the Brown Act were sponsored by State Senator Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and stemmed from a complaint in the city of Fremont where the city manager there met in private with each councilmember to brief them on a police policy issue. The city manager indicated to each individual councilmember that their colleagues all supported the issue, in effect letting each person know how the others were going to vote on the police matter.

These sorts of unofficial briefings between elected officials and their staffs happen all the time. Public officials do need to be educated on the matters they are voting on, but at the worst these briefings or workshops devolve into a kind of serial meeting that circumvents the intentions of the Brown Act's open meeting provisions. Under the Brown Act, the reasons for meeting in closed session are limited to personnel matters, pending litigation, and labor and real estate negotiations. Everything else must be discussed and deliberated on in public with the public allowed to comment on the issues.

So, the hiring of a manager-level city staffer or the Johnson's Pasture purchase negotiations can be discussed in closed session. And, those closed meeting discussions are treated like state secrets - they are not to be discussed or shared outside the closed session. Otherwise, why bother holding a secret meeting in the first place?

In the past, there have been unsubstantiated rumors of closed session deliberations being leaked out to members of the Claremont 400. However, changes in the Claremont City Council's makeup appear to have ended that practice, if it ever really existed.

One would hope that all our councilmembers respect the Brown Act and would obey both the intent and the letter of the law. If they and other elected officials don't, more changes in the Act are sure to be forthcoming.